MOSCOW (AP) _ A key shareholder of the embattled Russian Yukos oil company suggested that the Kremlin was behind the last-minute suspension of the oil giant's merger with a smaller rival, according to an interview published Monday.

The merger of Yukos with Sibneft oil company would have created the world's fourth-largest oil producer, but it was abruptly put on hold Friday, the very day it was due to be finalized.

Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin said that Sibneft's chief Eugene Shvidler had put pressure on him while speaking about halting the deal.

``Shvidler said something about the opinion of the presidential administration, ... and that it has something to do with the elections,'' Nevzlin said. ``I couldn't understand his explanations and cut him off.''

On Sunday, Sibneft said its decision had nothing to do with politics and was made for business reasons which it wouldn't describe.

Some Russian media have said that Sibneft majority owner Roman Abramovich demanded last week that Shvidler be made chief executive of the combined company and the Kremlin's former chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, be appointed chairman of the board.

The Interfax news agency on Monday quoted a source close to Yukos' core shareholders who said they dismissed such a demand from Sibneft, insisting that the earlier agreement for Yukos managers to run the company's day-to-day operations remained in force.

Asked about the reports, Nevzlin said that Yukos shareholders wouldn't negotiate putting Sibneft managers in charge of the merged company.

``I never said that this issue was even under discussion,'' Nevzlin said in an interview with the business daily Vedomosti. ``The written (merger) agreement, which is very clear and well thought-out, doesn't envision such an opportunity.''

The Dow Jones Newswires reported Monday that major Yukos shareholders convened in London to decide how to react to the latest development. Nevzlin wasn't planning to attend, but he was expected to participate via telephone. Nevzlin owns 3.5 percent of the post-merger Yukos shares and holds the voting rights for another 22 percent, which belong to former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Dow Jones, citing an unidentified source, said the major Yukos shareholders reaffirmed their commitment Monday to seeing the merger succeed and have started talks with Sibneft's owners, who also appeared receptive to continuing negotiations.

The merger's suspension dealt a new blow to Yukos, which is already facing an official probe that reached a peak with Khodorkovsky's Oct. 25 arrest on charges of tax evasion and fraud and the subsequent freezing of about 40 percent of the company's stakes.

The probe against Yukos was widely seen as a move to curb the growing financial and political clout of Khodorkovsky, who has financed several opposition parties in parliament.

President Vladimir Putin has denied political motives are behind the probe into Yukos, and said that the investigations aren't a signal of a broad revision of the controversial privatizations of the 1990s.

Meanwhile, Anatoly Chubais, who heads the state-run electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems and is seen as an ally of Khodorkovsky, warned that since the Yukos probe, foreign capital was no longer flowing into Russia at the volume it had earlier.

``In the first half of 2003, the outflow of capital was for the first time superseded by the inflow _ that is a fact,'' the Interfax news agency quoted Chubais as saying. ``It's also a fact that the situation changed again in the third quarter'' as the probe got underway.